September and October are hands-down my favorite months in the Wood River Valley. I love the shoulder-season feel in town when you can again wave at the driver of nearly every car you pass. I love the mineral smell of the Big Wood River when it’s low and unhurried. Most of all, I love the coin-shaped leaves of the aspens as they turn bright gold and light up the hills. I love the warm Indian summer days and the cool bite of autumn nights. Conventional wisdom holds that people come to Sun Valley for the winter and return because of our amazing summers. If they knew about the fall, they would never leave.
Hiking is the perfect way to capitalize on everything that is so amazing about the season. On a sunshiny September Sunday, I decided to walk up to Lookout on Bald Mountain. This hike is one of my in-town, don’t-have-much-time, but crave-pretty-scenery picks. It is short (1.7 miles each way), and not too steep. The route begins at the base of River Run and wends up the Bald Mountain Trail until it reaches the wooden platform built over the edge of the mountain that is the Lookout.
My hiking buddies were my friend, Chris, and my dog, Annabel. Since Chris is male, I did not expect much of the continuous banter and exchanged confidences that typify any hike I take with my girlfriends. But sometimes that is nice. Hiking in silence provides a great workout – you go faster when you’re not yapping. For me, hiking, like skiing, is a meditation of sorts. The slightly jarring rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other, heel-toe, heel-toe, and the varying pattern of my breath help clear my mind. Altitude is the ultimate mind clearer, too. The famous saying painted onto the roof of Pioneer Cabin (a fabulous hike if you’re looking for one) – The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get – is a self-evident truth. Standing at the edge of the Lookout, with Ketchum spread below and the sublime Pioneer mountain range in the distance, you can’t help but find some peace.
Given the time, from Lookout, I like to keep going up, up, up. The trail leads to Roundhouse (during summer, I usually “reward” myself for the hike with lunch on the deck, and more often that not, a glass of wine) or to the top of the hill. Riding the lift down, it is great fun to see my favorite ski runs bursting with colorful wildflowers and thigh-high vegetation. It makes me appreciate the volume of snowfall it takes to cover all that. And even in the middle of July, it makes me yearn just a bit for ski season. But there is still another good month of hiking left. For now, I will enjoy the ascent and look forward to the descent.